Monday, March 3, 2014

Our View: Why the News
Media Got It Wrong

The press has been proven wrong, again. As it turned out, plenty of Academy members watched and approved of “12 Years a Slave.” It won three Oscars in significant categories: picture, screenplay, supporting actress. That it was nominated in nine categories altogether might have told journalists something about the diligence and sober preferences of Oscar voters. It didn’t, and it’s easy to see why.

Until last night you would have thought that Academy members were a bunch of blockheads, Neanderthals whose taste resides in their knuckles. That’s what you would have taken away from reading the endless tide of criticism over the past few months aimed squarely (and unjustly) at the dullards who make up the Motion Picture Academy. This is how it works: A handful of journalists from a few major newspapers and a couple of industry-focused web sites talk to a trickle of Academy members. One reporter admitted that his sources number a scant 25 individuals.

It’s safe to say that other journalists might have a similar number of sources. But what if a particular columnist talks to 50, 100, or even 500 members? It’s certainly not going to be a representative demographic sampling of the Academy. There’s nothing scientific about it. Are one-third of the 25 (or 50) actors? How many members of the sound, costume, or art directors branches do reporters talk to each year?

The motivation of their sources is another consideration. Academy watchers in the press talk to their same group of carefully cultivated sources each year. It’s a co-dependent relationship. The sources have to be provocative or they will get dropped. They will lose favor with those journalists on whom they rely for career support. Reporters need people to stir the Oscar pot. It gives them something to write about for many months each year. Who wants to read stories about Academy voters who are analytical and thoughtful, who pay close attention to all of the films, who evaluate Cate Blanchett’s work on its own merits? There’s no percentage in that.

On the day after the Academy Awards, the Los Angeles Times ran this headline, “The academy gets it right.” What the newspaper didn’t bother to add was, “And we got it wrong.” You’ll never see that because they don’t believe the speculation that passes for reporting is anything but solid journalism. It’s only academy members who deserve to have their knuckles rapped with a steel ruler.

There will be plenty more of that next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. You can count on it. The news media are not going to change their ways. They cannot survive if they do. Like the movie business, it’s a living, after all.

Note: This is the final day of this blog for this year. Almost like Brigadoon, we'll be back for one week each year. Watch for us next February.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

They Said It at the Oscars

"There are no atheists on Academy Award night."
– Bob Hope, from his opening monologue on the 38th Academy Awards telecast, April 18, 1966

Watch Hope's opening monologue

Dining With the Stars:
Saluting This Year's Foreign Language Film Nominees

International Celebs Shine on a Rainy Night
Sorrentino: "Thank you for being interested in nothing."

A convivial mix of American and international stars and filmmakers came together to celebrate on Friday night as The Motion Picture Academy staged its annual presentation of certificates to the directors of the five nominated foreign language films. The festivities took place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in a tent next to the landmark streamline moderne May Co. building, soon to be the home of the Academy’s Museum of Motion Pictures. To get there, the multi-lingual crowd had to slog through flooded streets on one of the rare stormy nights in Los Angeles.

AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs warmly welcomed several hundred well-dressed guests (to be expected with so many Europeans in attendance) before turning the proceedings over to producer Mark Johnson, an Academy governor and chair of the Foreign Language Committee. Phedon Papamichael, a Best Cinematography nominee this year for “Nebraska,” introduced Belgium’s impactful “Broken Circle Breakdown” and director Felix Van Groeningen. Also on hand was the film’s gifted, luminous leading actress, Veerle Baetens.

Kathryn Bigelow handed the certificate to Cambodian director Rithy Panh for his innovative “The Missing Picture,” which also took the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in May. “Totalitarianism can destroy imagination,” Panh noted before thanking the crowd. Celebrating with him were his French producer, Catherine Dussart, star Randal Douc, and composer Marc Marder.

Thomas Vinterberg, the formidable director of Denmark’s compelling “The Hunt,” received his certificate from Matt Groening (yes, creator of television’s “The Simpsons” and certainly a strange choice to represent the Motion Picture Academy). Groening told the crowd that he checked with Vinterberg beforehand to make sure he was pronouncing his name correctly. “It’s close enough,” replied Vinterberg, who speaks flawless, unaccented English.

They Said It at the Oscars

The Oscars are "two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over four hours"

– Johnny Carson, 1979 telecast

"This is the shortest Oscar show of this century."

– Billy Crystal, concluding 2000's four-hour, eight-minute telecast

Watch Sammy Davis, Jr. and Steve Lawrence's musical number from the 1979 Oscar show.

A Few Words With "The Great Beauty's" Costume Designer, Daniela Ciancio

"He must be the king of the night."

Daniela Ciancio created the costumes for Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty,” as she did for his 2008 movie “Il Divo.” Trim and youthful, Ciancio was in Los Angeles for an exhibit of her work at the Los Angeles Italia film festival. It was her first visit to Hollywood. She recently designed wardrobe for the forthcoming Michael Winterbottom film “The Face of an Angel,” a fictionalized treatment of the Amanda Knox murder case starring Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Bruhl. Like the character of Jep, played by Tony Servillo, she was born in Naples. We spoke to her as we toured her exhibit last week.
"The Great Beauty": What the well dressed Neapolitan man wears

How did you go about designing for Jep?

Everything in the film revolves around him. In the movie, Jep comes from Naples and he must have those special things that tell us he comes from this part of Italy. Neapolitan style for men is different from other parts of Italy. I did a lot of research about Neapolitan style and thought a lot about Jep. He must be completely different from the other people in the story. He looks at life around him from a distance. His character is full and empty at the same time. I used the Neapolitan style. The cut of the jacket is typical of Naples. A white shirt and light trousers, this is typical Neapolitan style of someone who lives in Capri or Positano. Sorrentino wrote in the script that he wanted a yellow jacket for Jep in one scene. Normally the jacket is blue or light blue, but we also used yellow and red.

What distinguishes the Neapolitan style?

It’s an old tradition. It’s related to the English style in men’s suits. The difference is in the cut of the jacket and the shoulder. It’s really soft. Cesare Attolini is a famous suit maker in Naples. We worked with them to get the shapes we wanted. The jacket fits close to the body, and we used square patch pockets and fabrics that wrinkle a bit.

Why do Italian men in general always look so elegant, sophisticated, confident?

I don’t think all of the men in my film were well dressed. Jep, yes. He must be fashionable, elegant, a little eccentric. He must be the king of the night. In Italy we have a big tradition of elegance in men’s fashions. I studied it a lot with the great designer Piero Tosi (“The Leopard,” “Death in Venice,” and a five time Oscar nominee). He was my mentor. Our tradition of designing is strong, but the result should be very simple.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

"I Know People That Disgusting." Jonah Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Terence Winter Discuss
"The Wolf of Wall St."

Martin Sorcese’s rambling, immensely entertaining black comedy “The Wolf of Wall St.” is one of this year’s Best Film nominees. A few weeks ago, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and screenwriter Terence Winter answered questions after a screening in Hollywood.

Terrence Winter on how he got involved with the film:

The book is so visual and so wild. I literally started to read it, I could not put it down… It plays out in your mind when you read it. Each one of those sequences, I saw the movie in my head… It’s such an incredibly compelling roller coaster [ride]… I had never written anything like it before.

Terrence Winter on the film’s three-hour length:

[The first draft was] 128 pages. We decided we needed to cut it, and it ballooned up to 146. That’s what meeting with Marty will do.

Jonah Hill on the real Jordan Belfort:

What was really compelling was how honest Jordan was about this behavior. And all true by the way. The FBI agent who tracked Jordan told me every single thing was true.

Jonah Hill on how he got the part:

I was nominated for an Oscar for Money Ball, and I sat in front of Scorcese at the Oscars. I had never met him, and Goodfellows is the reason I wanted to dedicate my life to films… I’m not going up to him and bother him, but by the end of the night, I said, “Hey, I really like Goodfellows.”… A week later I got a call that they were interested in me. I was at the bottom of the list of way better actors. Then Leo and I were in Mexico promoting different films. I asked him if I could meet with him, because he was the producer. This was a month before I was supposed to meet with Scorcese. We sat down and I immediately launched into who I thought Donnie was and told him, “I have to play this character. There’s no one else in the world who can play this character but me. I know people this disgusting.”